Non-profit

Secure Democracy

Website:

www.secure-democracy.org

Tax ID:

83-3846342

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

President:

Heather Smith

Founded:

2018

Latest Filing:

2019 Form 990

Founded in 2018, Secure Democracy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that bills itself as a nonpartisan organization, but has deep ties to left-leaning activists, PACs, and law firms. The organization works exclusively on election policy advocacy, and supports expanding early voting, further utilization of mail-in ballot drop boxes, and reducing restrictions on absentee voting.[1] The organizations website also states that it supports “Restoring voter eligibility to the thousands of Americans who have returned home from prison but do not have a voice in their communities.” [2]

Leadership

Board of Directors

Though they are not mentioned on the organization’s leadership webpage, the organization is led by a board of directors with a history of work in left-leaning activism. [3]

President Heather Smith previously spent 14 years working at Rock the Vote, a left leaning organizing group, serving as President and on the board of directors. She also spent five years working as an organizer at the Green Corps, a left-leaning environmentalist organization. [4]

Secretary Michael Silberman worked for five years as the global director of the digital mobilization lab at Greenpeace, a radical left-wing environmentalist group, and worked as a national meetup director for Howard Dean’s campaign in the 2004 Democratic primary.[5]

Treasurer Brianna Cayo Cotter is also a senior vice president at Viacom, the national media conglomerate which owns CBS, MTV, and other large television channels, and has previously worked for Change.org and the Rainforest Action Network, a left-leaning environmentalist group.[6]

Staff

Secure Democracy’s Executive Director, Sarah Walker began working for Secure Democracy as a State & Federal Affairs Staff member in 2019 and was promoted to Executive Director in February 2021. [7] Before starting at Secure Democracy, Walker briefly worked as a Deputy Commissioner of Corrections for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and spent several years working for Hill Capitol Strategies and MZA+ Co, two Minnesota based government affairs consulting firms. Walker has earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and Government and Political Science and African American Studies from Carleton College, and has studied as a PhD candidate in Sociology, Criminology, and Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. [8] Walker has made significant contributions to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and the 2015 campaign of Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN). [9]

Regional Director Maya Ingram oversees Secure Democracy’s operations in Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon. [10] Ingram previously worked as a litigation attorney for the several California branches of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and as the Public Affairs Director for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate. [11]

Regional Director Charley Olena oversees Secure Democracy’s operations in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Ohio, and Washington. [12] Olena has also worked as Advocacy Director for New Era Colorado, a left-of-center voter mobilization group, and was appointed to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in 2019. [13]

Associate Director for State Communications, Jay Riestenberg, manages Secure Democracy’s communications efforts. Riestenberg has previously worked left-leaning watchdog organizations including the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause which are known for targeting conservative political groups. Riestenberg has also worked as a consultant for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO). [14]

Ties to Perkins Coie

According to the Washington D.C. corporate registry, Secure Democracy is owned by a board of four governors. The owners are the three board members, Heather Smith, Michael Silberman, and Brianna Cayo Cotter, but also Graham Wilson, formerly a partner at the high-profile Democratic Party affiliated law firm Perkins Coie, now at the Elias Law Group.[15]

See here, Secure Democracy’s list of beneficial owners from the Washington D.C. corporate registry.

Ties to left-leaning PAC

In 2018, Secure Democracy’s Form 990’s listed a D.C. address that was also listed as the address of the Not Who We Are PAC.[16] [17] During 2015 and 2016, the PAC’s major only major years of operation, the Not Who We Are PAC was funded almost exclusively by large contributions from high-profile Silicon Valley billionaires known for funding left-wing activist groups. For example, Pierre Omidyar contributed $200,000, Dustin Moskovitz contributed $125,000, his wife Cari Tuna contributed $125,000, and Christopher Hughes contributed $250,000. [18]

Lobbying

According to Open Secrets, a watchdog organization, Secure Democracy has spent $200,000 on lobbying activity since 2020. [19]

In 2020, the organization paid $90,000 to retain the services of Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm led by Brian Ballard, a lobbyist with ties to President Donald Trump who was once called the “most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” [20] The lobbying was reportedly for “issues related to educating policy makers on ways to ensure safe and secure elections.” [21]

Later in 2020, the organization paid $60,000 to another lobbying firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, for lobbying services for unspecified government issues. [22]

In 2021, Secure Democracy paid Blue Mountain Strategies, a lobbying firm also used by Facebook and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, $30,000 for lobbying related to the “For the People Act” and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. [23] [24] The lobbyist retained by Secure Democracy was listed as Luke Albee, who also works as a legislative affairs consultant for Protect Our Care, a left-leaning front group created by the Sixteen Thirty Fund. [25]

Funding

In 2019 Secure Democracy received $2.7 million in grants. [26]

In 2020 Secure Democracy received $700k from the Unite America PAC, a left-leaning hybrid PAC that claims to be centrist, but aligns very closely with left-leaning organizations and candidates. [27]

In 2020, Secure Democracy also received a $1 million contribution from the North Star Fund, a left-leaning grantmaking entity funded by a range of left-leaning foundations including  George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society and the Ford Foundation.[28]

References

  1. “Protecting Americans’ Freedom to Vote.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/home/#work^
  2. “Protecting Americans’ Freedom to Vote.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/home/#work. ^
  3. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2018. Part VII. https://apps.irs.gov/pub/epostcard/cor/823846342_201812_990O_2020061117187291.pdf ^
  4. “Heather Smith – Founding Partner – Seven Strategies | Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-smith-b90bbb4^
  5. “Michael Silberman – Middlebury College – Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/msilberman^
  6. “Brianna Cayo Cotter – Senior Vice President … – Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/briannacc^
  7. “Sarah Walker – Executive Director – Secure … – Linkedin.” Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-walker-33551612. ^
  8. “Sarah Walker – Executive Director – Secure … – Linkedin.” Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-walker-33551612. ^
  9. “Browse Individual Contributions.” FEC.gov. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Sarah%2BWalker&contributor_employer=MZA&contributor_state=MN. ^
  10. “Our Leadership.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/our-leadership. ^
  11. “Maya Ingram – Regional Director – Secure Democracy | Linkedin.” Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/maya-ingram. ^
  12. “Our Leadership.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/our-leadership. ^
  13. “New Era Advocacy Director Appointed for Higher Ed Commission.” New Era Colorado, August 15, 2019. https://neweracolorado.org/new-era-advocacy-director-appointed-for-higher-ed-commission/. ^
  14. “Jay Riestenberg – Linkedin.” Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jayriestenberg. ^
  15. Person, and David Thomas. “Elias Departs Perkins Coie, as Firm Says Will Continue Political Law Practice.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, August 23, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/elias-departs-perkins-coie-firm-says-will-continue-political-law-practice-2021-08-23/. ^
  16. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2018. Part 1. Item C. https://apps.irs.gov/pub/epostcard/cor/823846342_201812_990O_2020061117187291.pdf. ^
  17. “Report of Receipts FEC and … – Docquery.fec.gov.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://docquery.fec.gov/pdf/158/201802209094618158/201802209094618158.pdf. ^
  18. “Browse Receipts.” FEC.gov. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?committee_id=C00623082&two_year_transaction_period=2016&data_type=processed. ^
  19. “Secure Democracy Lobbying Profile.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/summary?cycle=2021&id=F320206. ^
  20. Meyer, Theodoric. “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” POLITICO Magazine, April 2, 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/02/most-powerful-lobbyist-in-trump-washington-217759/. ^
  21. “Secure Democracy Lobbying Reports.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/reports?cycle=2020&id=F320206. ^
  22. Secure Democracy Lobbying Reports.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/reports?cycle=2020&id=F320206. ^
  23. “Blue Mountain Strategies Lobbying Profile.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/firms/summary?cycle=2021&id=F220971. ^
  24. “LD-2 Disclosure Form.” Accessed October 11, 2021. https://lda.senate.gov/filings/public/filing/1ba4d3ac-830a-40a4-8b69-b7ec50cb077a/print/. ^
  25. “Meet Our Team.” Protect Our Care, October 7, 2021. https://www.protectourcare.org/team/. ^
  26. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2019. Part 1. https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2021/10/Secure-Democracy-2019.pdf ^
  27. “Vendor/Recipient Profile: Secure+Democracy.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/campaign-expenditures/vendor?cycle=2020&vendor=Secure%2BDemocracy. ^
  28. DocumentCloud. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20987863-north-fund-records. ^
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